In the future world of M.T. Anderson’s Feed, young people are implanted with silicon chips that provide a continual barrage of advertising, entertainment, useful facts, advertising, travel information, advertising, and, oh yes, advertising. This is presented in the novel as “Not a Good Thing,” but around the time Feed was published, Google co-founder Sergey Brin was looking forward to the day: “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” With Google Glass—a “nerd’s fantasy,” according to MIT Technology Review—that day comes a little closer.
Heralded as the “Next Big Thing” on the company’s website last year, Glass is the latest in wearable technology. Attached to a titanium band is a tiny camera and a screen is positioned just over the right eye. The screen reflects an image that’s the equivalent of a 25-inch display positioned eight feet away. To activate once it’s on your face, all you have to do is touch the sidebar “keypad” or tilt your head up sharply. Glass responds to voice commands, signaled by “OK Glass”: Read an email, find the nearest Italian restaurant, give me directions to 21st Street, take a picture, record a video.
In February, Google announced an Explorer’s edition of Glass, which was sold to about 1,000 pre-selected product testers. Reviews are mixed: In general, the device is seen as promising but bug-prone. Confusion with the voice-recognition has led to some “unfortunate emails” being sent, search capacities are limited, focal length doesn’t adjust to everyone’s vision, battery life is too short, etc. It will also take some getting used to—not so much for the wearer as for everybody around him: It doesn’t look all that techno-cool but more like a sleek, hostile alien entity sucking one’s brain.
Privacy is the major concern, though. Imagine talking to an acquaintance wearing a Glass: Is he recording this conversation? Taking a photo? Defenders counter that the video capacity is only about 10 seconds (so far) and an indicator light glows while recording. True, a new etiquette will be required, but easily learned. (Like cell-phone etiquette. Everyone abides by that, right?)
Even if you trust your Glass-wearing friends, can you trust Google? Its all-seeing eye can identify literally millions of people—will it be covertly tracking them through Glass wearers? Or will it start advertising through the stream of useful information? Google executives say no to both questions—they also say no pornography, but porn app producers are lining up already.
Sometimes the “Next Big Thing” becomes the “Next Big Bust.” For all its gee-whiz features, Google Glass may hit a glass ceiling with the average consumer who finds it more creepy than cool. Ebooks and ereaders struck out a number of times before Amazon smacked the Kindle out of the park. Google’s form of “augmented reality” may face a similar obstacle course. On the other hand, wide acceptance may mean that the age of Feed is not far away. The next few years will be interesting, to say the least.